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Business, Entertainment - Written by on Wednesday, August 12, 2009 8:37 - 7 Comments

Denis Hancock
Fun new research topic: the NBA on Twitter

Much of my research at nGenera Insight is focused on how the Web 2.0 is changing the Marketing & Sales world. Because of this, I get to spend a lot of time doing stuff that many of my friends don’t exactly consider “work” – for example, the exhausting week I spent watching YouTube video after YouTube video as part of my analysis for Prosumers & YouTube: How Important is ‘broadcasting yourself’? (short answer: not as important as you might think). And I continue to keep my eye out for other potential research topics that can provide great insights into the Web 2.0 world, while leading my friends to say things like “You did what? And they paid you for that? I’d get fired if I did that – where can I sign up?”

In turn, I’m happy to report that I think I’ve found a new topic that will really annoy some of those people :) . Regular readers of this blog (and my site) may recall I’ve been spending a fair bit of time researching how organizations are using Twitter – and if you watch closely you’ll probably also see that I’m an NBA fan. In turn, much like the Sports Guy, I’ve become incredibly fascinated by how twitter (and social media) is changing the experience of NBA fans. And I’ve convinced myself that not only is it an interesting story unto itself, but it can provide valuable insights for organizations of all different stripes trying to figure out their social media strategies.

The primary reason for this is related to the structure of the NBA. At the top you have the league itself, which has worked very hard for many years to portray a certain image to fans. In general, if they couldn’t control it, they didn’t like it. Let’s call that corporate headquarters. Then you have 30 different franchises that comprise the league. Let’s call them, er, the franchises. While bound by certain rules and guidelines holding the league together, each differs in terms of identity, underlying philosophy, market size, success metrics, etc. Sometimes this is most directly tied to the owner (see: BlogMaverick). Other times it’s tied more to the coach (say, Phil Jackson or Mike D’Antoni).

Then you have the players – a.k.a. “the workers” – who are probably the most interesting group for this analysis. They are high profile and wealthy people, and many might argue that a sense of “self-entitlement” comes with their status. But the wrinkle is that most of them are also members of the Net Generation – that pesky group of young workers that critics often blanket with the “self entitlement” stigma as well. So you’ve got a group of people that grew up in the generation where “everyone got a trophy for showing up”, but they were the ones who were actually winning the big trophies – call it self-entitlement squared. And of course, surrounding this league are all the various media properties that bring the NBA experience to fans.

While the Internet has been slowly changing all kinds of things with how the NBA engages with fans, in many ways Twitter has been a bomb that’s gone off – things are changing pretty dramatically, and pretty quickly. And like we’ve seen with many organizations, it’s been mostly driven from the bottom-up: a whole bunch of enthusiastic Net Geners jumping into the fray, with good and bad consequences for themselves, their teams, the league, and the supporting ecosystem.

The aspects of the “good” story tend to be obvious – it’s very cool for a fan to be able to follow, say, The_Real_Shaq or ChrisBosh. In turn, Twitter can enable a deeper connection between fans and players, which (hopefully) leads to things like increased ticket and merchandise sales. But bad stories about how NBA players use Twitter are popping up with remarkable frequency.

For example, Kevin Love tweeted about his coach not coming back next season. Sounds kind of innocent, except for the fact it hadn’t been made public yet – a.k.a. he gave away a company secret. His reaction was (more or less) this is a new world and teams just have to get used to it – but most would argue that employees need to use better discretion. And NBA journalists around the world likely weeped in unison – if players break the stories, what exactly are they going to do?

T.J. Ford didn’t exactly give away a company secret, but the organization he represents (and society in general) may feel that he said to much when the start of an infamous tweet noted – and I’m not joking – that he was going to “takin a dump.” I believe it’s what the kids call TMI.

J.R. Smith jumped on the twitter – and many of his tweets constantly used “K’s” instead of “C’s”. Bad spelling might be a forgivable offense – but the realization that this letter switch is commonly used to to represent affiliation with the Bloods street gang probably isn’t. He’s since pulled the plug on the account.

Then there are the greyer areas. When Charlie V tweeted during halftime of a game, his coach got angry – and told him never to do it again, because he needs to be focused on the task at hand. When Shaq did kind of the same thing (in a joking fashion), his coach said he didn’t care – so long as he was putting up good stats. One argument is that this is just a difference in coaching philosophies; another is that players fulfilling their potential (say, Shaq) get privileges that others (say, Charlie V) don’t. Companies that struggle with how and when to accept their employees engaging with social media during “work hours” know the challenges of dealing with such situations all too well. Does using Twitter at 2 pm mean they’re not focusing on their job? Or might they be using it in a way that actually helps the company generate sales (or team connect with fans)? Can you have different rules for different people?

Then you can dig into what the various teams are doing. If you check out the Laker’s page, they actively promote a number of different accounts you can follow – including @Lakers, @JeanieBuss (EVP), @LakersReporter, and your choice of five players (I assume they watch the account of Ron Artest closely for obvious reasons). If you go to the Orlando Magic page, you can follow more people – including TV hosts, radio hosts, the unofficial Magic Girl, even the Magic Dancers – but not a single player is listed. The latter case is like how a lot of companies work – the workers work (players play), and the support staff does PR / marketing.

Other teams – like my hometown Raptors – are on Twitter, but don’t really seem into it. Their “official” Twitter account link from their home page is to @Raptors_web_guy, who’s bio starts with “coding HTML”, and the account hasn’t been updated this week. Which is kind of odd, since Raptor’s star Chris Bosh is all over Twitter. It’s also notable that the Raptors_Web_Guy has <3,000 followers, while the Orlando Magic’s main account has 426,000. Already working on a metric to accurately gauge which teams are more effective at using Twitter while accounting for things like market size.

And of course, there is also the main NBA account as well. And all the traditional media coverage sites around it. And all the new-ish NBA information sites that are connecting through it. And all the ways twitter connects with various other social media platforms.

Anyways, the detailed research is to follow – but you get the idea. There’s a whole lot going on, many different teams are doing many different things, and I believe the high profile of the NBA coupled with the way it is structured indicates there’s a lot that other companies can learn from them. If you have an interesting stories to share on this front, send them my way (here, or @denisbhancock)– and of course any new research ideas that would involve we doing what many employers would view as a “waste of time” are welcome. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it…


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Laura Carrillo
Aug 12, 2009 13:55

Great post Denis. One of my favorite “good” NBA stories is when Paul Pierce (@paulpierce34)of the Boston Celtics posted on Twitter that he would give away tickets to a game to the first five fans wearing Paul Pierce jerseys at the players’ entrance to the Boston Garden at 4:30pm. Fans had to use the password “Truth” (his nickname around these parts). He showed up on time and 5 lucky fans got to see the game that night. Pretty cool stuff.

Naumi Haque
Aug 12, 2009 15:56

Related to Laura’s story, The_Real_Shaq tweeting about having free tickets to a game – he was standing at a bus stop and the first person (on Twitter) to spot him got the tickets. They were gone within minutes.

Aug 12, 2009 16:45

Interesting post. There are some similarities to and some differences between the NBA and other businesses that come to mind.
Each NBA team has just a few players – 12-13 – so “controlling” them may be much easier. On the other hand, they are, as you point out, major public figures (not advocating they are “important” public figures) so anything they say and do attracts almost immediate attention. Keeping them accessible should be important to each team and the NBA; keeping them responsible is another issue – the definition of “TMI” may be, and likely is, very different for an NBA player than for me (although my personal habits are probably also out of bounds for tweeting).
The NBA has 30 franchises, each in a city with its own unique climate, culture, mores, etc. Setting up a set of 2.0 guidelines (e.g., IBM, SAP, Cisco) for the NBA may be more complicated than for even global companies. But there may also be similarities – global companies deal with multiple cultures, each with its own laws and standards.
Finally, companies, too, are struggling with how to deal with 2.0 technologies, applications, and tools because the platforms – Twitter, iPhone, Facebook, etc. – have almost unlimited potential for expression and empowerment, and, frankly, you cannot keep expression muted for very long.
Thanks for spending so much time observing. That’s still a great tool.

Wikinomics» Blog Archive » Starting the Comparison of NBA teams on Twitter
Aug 27, 2009 9:22

[...] couple of weeks ago I explained why how the NBA – the league, the teams, the players – uses Twitter would be a fascinating [...]

NBA Withdrawal – 10 NBA Personalities I want to see on Twitter « Heels on Hardwood
Aug 31, 2009 17:17

[...] domination of the NBA on Twitter has been well documented. Everyone from Shaquille O’Neal to the NBA Store has an account and each have used twitter to [...]

Peter Robert Casey
Sep 11, 2009 22:30

It’s interesting how the League Office defers social media policy responsibilities to each respective team. The Suns and Magic seem to be the most progressive of the NBA’s 30 properties.

JoJo Jack Jnr
Oct 13, 2009 10:40

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Very well presented
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